Pulling out a piece of White House stationary from his black notebook, Franklin teen Campbell Parker reads aloud the handwritten note he received recently from the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.
Pulling out a piece of White House stationery from his black notebook, Franklin teen Campbell Parker reads aloud the handwritten note he received recently from the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.
The note arrived in Franklin after the Battle Ground Academy senior wrote to Biden following the death of his son Beau, who died of cancer earlier this year. Though the reply emerged from Biden’s personal tragedy, the vice president spent most of the correspondence complimenting Parker, stating how highly he regards the 17-year-old senior. It is, in fact, not the first time the two have been in touch as Parker’s notebook is filled with memorabilia, notes and a presidential patch.
Biden and the student from Franklin connected six years ago and have been pen pals and friends ever since. The two bonded over a shared struggled with a common speech impediment – a stutter.
“It’s given me someone to look up to,” Parker said of his relationship with the vice president. “Every time I’ve written (to Biden) he has responded.”
Parker has met the vice president in Tennessee and toured the White House with him. Parker has seen Biden at other conventions and speeches as well. He is not sure what his next interaction with Biden will be but the vice president wrote his phone number at the bottom of his recent card. Parker has yet to try it.
What it’s like to hang out with Biden
Back when Parker was in middle school, his stutter was what he classified as “bad.”
“I would avoid trying to be called on and answer as shortly as I could,” he said. “Whenever I would give a speech, it would be all I could do to try to stutter the least that I could.”
When Biden gave the keynote speech at the Jackson Day Dinner hosted by the Tennessee Democratic Party in 2010, Parker’s mom contacted Biden’s staff explaining that Parker was coming and that it would be a neat connection for the two to meet. At the event, Parker hopped into the receiving line, and when it was his turn to shake Biden’s hand, the vice president greeted him by telling him the two have something in common. Biden asked to talk with him later after all of the photos with other guests were taken.
“We went back to his holding room, and he showed me how to mark (my speech) up not to stutter,” Parker said, adding that the vice president showed him the speech he given that night. “Then he gave it to me and signed the front page of it. I have it framed.”
But the signed speech was not all Biden gave Parker. The vice president let him ride in the limo, and he took him to Air Force Two.
“I was kind of all surprised it was all going on,” Parker said. “My phone was ringing as I was with him. In the car, we just talked about school and my favorite subjects and how he dealt with stuttering. The most I learned from that car ride was stuttering doesn’t define who I am.”
A year later, Parker had the opportunity to take a stroll through the White House with Biden, specifically through the West Wing, when he and his eighth-grade classmates were on a trip to Washington, D.C. Again his mom stepped in. She alerted Biden’s staff Parker was going to be in Washington, D.C., and asked if he could see the vice president while he was in town.
“He showed us around the Oval Office and where he was writing his speech, and I got to be in the writing process,” Parker said. “Then he gave me a hat. The whole deal was surprising and surreal in getting to go. I remember his aide saying that we couldn’t stay long because the prime minister of Britain was coming soon.”
The two kept in touch through letters. When Parker gave a speech in front of his freshman class as part of an assignment, Biden wrote soon after to congratulate him on the speech.
“He said he was glad that he was able to be influential on me in that way and proud that I had given the speech in front of the whole school,” he said.
‘He is my role model’
Now a senior, Parker isn’t sure what he wants to do post graduation. He has a list of colleges he’s picking through, from Vanderbilt to Syracuse University.
His stutter is almost nonexistent, thanks to hard work in speech therapy in middle school. This summer he interned with mayoral candidate Bill Freeman during the primary campaign. And though his connection with the vice president has been a huge influence on his life, Parker doesn’t think it has led him down a path to pursue politics. Instead, the BGA football and basketball player would rather go into sports broadcasting. However, he wouldn’t mind going to Syracuse, which is Biden’s alma mater.
“It kind of started as a joke because he went there, but then I started looking at the school, and it seemed really cool.”
Parker’s friends were surprised by the unexpected friendship. They are hoping it could lead to Vice President Biden speaking at their graduation from BGA this spring. But for Parker, the friendship is much more. He said he doesn’t think he would have come along so fast with his speech therapy if it hadn’t been for the Biden introduction that changed his life six years ago.
“I feel like I still would have done it but I wouldn’t have the one person who makes public speeches to know,” he said. “I think I would have been able to but it would have taken me much longer. He is my role model.”